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Brick's Picks: Give the Drummer Some 

Thursday, Feb 10 2011
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Zach Harmon is back on the drum kit at the Foundry on Melrose (between Vista and Gardner) every weekend. That's a way cool thing, since we dig the way he plays. It's different, for sure. His toms lay almost level, his cymbals are oddly placed way too close to each other and just a hair above the rims of those toms. He even sits different. He doesn't sound like other jazz drummers. His rolls sound different and look different. He accents weird, he stomps the bass weird, his bombs drop in the oddest places. His solos — and man, can the kid solo — are like rolling, splattering waves of ferocious intensity that taper off into almost nothingness and then explode back into life so loud it scares people.

We even heard a story about him using a samurai sword to sweep across the cymbals, making terrifying clangs and looking like a Wisconsin farm boy gone berserk. Of course he can swing, of course he can be a beautiful accompanist on a vocal gig. He can do all that. But you really need to see him let loose, playing just the way he wants to play. On those warm nights when the Foundry leaves the French doors open, you can literally hear him solo for blocks up and down Melrose. He drives those trios, drives them hard. Hell, he's the only drummer we've ever seen give Tigran Hamasyan a run for his money.

Of course it turns out he's got another gig Friday (see below), so someone else will be on drums that night with the brilliant young pianist Mahesh Balasooriya, a cat whose feel for jazz at the roots — you should hear him on a blues — is so utterly natural, he sounds like he's played this stuff for 50 years. Harmon's there Saturday, though, with pianist Otmaro Ruiz. They'll be throwing ideas and riffs at each other at a pace that will test the strength and willpower of bassist Matt Cory. The Foundry can be noisy, but we love this place: There's a bar three feet from the stage, amazing grilled cheese sandwiches, a young vibe and dames like you don't see in jazz joints ever. Free, too.

Otmaro Ruiz also is down at Alva's in San Pedro on Friday, in a quartet with saxist Walter Smith. It's $20 but is BYOB (and BYO food, too), making it actually quite a deal. At the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts (2225 Colorado Blvd.) on Friday, the powerfully impressive pianist Austin Peralta celebrates his new Endless Planet (on Brainfeeder) with a crazy gig. We can't tell if he's in one or two bands that night, but we love both names — Thundercat and Deathgasm — the latter of whom include violinist Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, saxist Sam Gendel, bassist Ryan McGillicuddy and Zach Harmon on drums and tabla. There's a pair of manipulators, too — one on electronics, the other the "live video feedback manipulation." $10. [See also Music Picks.]

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Peralta is one of those inspired young piano players (the kind you'll find at places like the Foundry and Blue Whale) who go beyond bop traditionalism and take chances, getting weird and groovy. Yes, this new ground is tricky, but it's dangerous and exciting and we're loving it.

(Brick can be reached at brickjazz@yahoo.com.)

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